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De Vere Poem 12: Winged With Desire

The Introduction to this new Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship edition of the known poems of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), explaining their text, format, annotations, and historical background, with key to abbreviations and works cited, is available here (see copyright notice therein, note 1). The other de Vere poems published in this edition (and a printable and citable pdf version of the entire article, including all 20 poems with annotations) may be accessed from the Introduction.

Poem No. 12: “Winged With Desire”

(May #12: 6 x 6)

1            Winged with desire, I seek to mount on high,

2            Clogged with mishap, yet am I kept full low;

3            Who seeks to live and finds the way to die,

4            Sith [since] comfort ebbs and cares do daily flow,

5            But sad despair would have me to retire,

6            When smiling hope sets forward my desire.


7            I still do toil, and never am at rest,

8            Enjoying least when I do covet most;

9            With weary thoughts are my green years oppressed,

10          To danger drawn from my desired coast,

11          Now crazed with care, then haled up with hope,

12          With world at will, yet wanting wished scope.


13          I like in heart, yet dare not say I love,

14          And looks alone do lend me chief relief;

15          I dwelt sometimes at rest, yet must remove;

16          With feigned joy I hide my secret grief;

17          I would possess, yet needs must flee the place

18          Where I do seek to win my chiefest grace.


19          Lo, thus I live twixt fear and comfort tossed,

20          With least abode where best I feel content;

21          I seld resort where I should settle most;

22          My sliding times too soon with her are spent;

23          I hover high, and soar where hope doth tower,

24          Yet froward fate defers my happy hour.


25          I live abroad, but still in secret grief,

26          Then least alone when most I seem to lurk;

27          I speak of peace, and live in endless strife,

28          And when I play, then are my thoughts at work;

29          In person far, that am in mind full near,

30          Making light show where I esteem most dear.


31          A malcontent, yet seem I pleased still,

32          Bragging of heaven, yet feeling pains of hell;

33          But time shall frame a time unto my will,

34          Whenas in sport this earnest will I tell;

35          Till then, sweet friend, abide these storms with me

36          Which shall in joys of either fortunes be.


(1) Winged with desire

‘Whose haughty spirit, winged with desire’ (3 Hen. VI, 1.1.267); ‘Borne by the trustless wings of false desire’ (Lucrece, 2).

(1) I seek to mount on high

‘the gentle lark, weary of rest, From his moist cabinet mounts up on high’ (Venus, 854); ‘To mount aloft with thy imperial mistress, And mount her pitch, whom thou in triumph long Hast prisoner held’ (Titus, 2.1.13-15); ‘Mount, mount, my soul! thy seat is up on high’ (Rich. II, 5.5.112); ‘That mounts no higher than a bird can soar’ (2 Hen. VI, 2.1.14).

(4) Sith [since] comfort ebbs and cares do daily flow

The linguistic parallelism of ebbing and flowing is by itself fairly commonplace. E.g.:

‘The sea will ebb and flow’ (LLL, 4.3.212); ‘ebb and flow like the sea’ (1 Hen. IV, 1.2.31); ‘great ones, That ebb and flow by th’moon’ (Lear, 5.3.19).

More telling are parallels associating ebbing and flowing with fluctuations of emotion:

‘And sorrow ebbs, being blown with wind of words’ (Lucrece, 1330); ‘Thus ebbs and flows the current of her sorrow’ (Lucrece, 1569); ‘ebb and flow with tears’ (R&J, 3.5.133).

(5) But sad despair would have me to retire, When smiling hope sets forward my desire

‘our hope but sad despair’ (3 Hen. VI, 2.3.9); ‘Where hope is coldest and despair most fits’ (All’s Well, 2.1.144); ‘past hope, and in despair’ (Cym., 1.1.137); ‘Despair and hope makes thee ridiculous’ (Venus, 988).

Again the mode of antithetical, juxtaposed emotions appear in both samples, this time with hope and despair. See also No. 5.17-22.

(8) Enjoying least when I do covet most

‘With what I most enjoy contented least’ (Sonnets, 29.8).

The slight variations in syntax and word choice cannot obscure this parallel expression of an almost identical complex and subtle point, a profound insight into a paradox of human nature: Sometimes the more we covet or enjoy something, the less satisfied we are in hindsight. The thought is expressed in each case as a self-aware first-person insight, in remarkably similar turns of phrase.

See also lines 20, 26.

(11) Now crazed with care

‘The grief hath craz’d my wits’ (Lear, 3.4.170).

(16) With feigned joy I hide my secret grief

‘And all that poets feign of bliss and joy’ (3 Hen. VI, 1.2.31).

Again the dissimulation topos is restated.

See also Nos. 6.4, 9.2, 10.9-10, and 18.40.

(19) twixt fear and comfort tossed

‘Is madly toss’d between desire and dread’ (Lucrece, 171).

The same verb, tossed—recalling an association between emotion and the motions of the sea or objects on the sea—sums up the divided condition of fear juxtaposed to some positive emotion (comfort or “desire”). See also Nos. 6.26 and 18.33.

(20, 26) With least abode where best I feel content … Then least alone when most I seem to lurk

Seeming to be most which we indeed least are’ (Shrew, 5.2.175); ‘In least speak most’ (Dream 5.1.105); ‘The true soul, when most impeach’d stands least in thy control’ (Sonnets, 125.14).

See also line 8.

(27) I speak of peace, and live in endless strife

‘as thou liv’st in peace, die free from strife’ (Rich. II, 5.6.27); ‘And for the peace of you I hold such strife’ (Sonnets, 75.3).

[posted January 22, 2018]

About Bryan Wildenthal

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